I’ve devoted a few hours this spring to fixing up my father’s old riding lawn mower which I hope will be a help in keeping the grass and weeds under control around the buildings on the farm. The mower, a 1975 Snapper with an eight horsepower Briggs and Stratton vertical-shaft engine, went into the storage shed in town the fall before my father died in 1994. It sat there for 22 years.
With memories of last year’s six-foot-tall weed patch on the farm, I decided to see if the mower could be resurrected. I wish I’d taken a picture when I opened the shed door. I first had to cut out dozens of tree sprouts that were in the way, then pry open the door. There it sat, just where my father had left it, not knowing (or, at age 92, maybe knowing) he wouldn’t be back on it next spring. The tires were flat, it was covered with twenty years of dust, the battery was corroded, and it looked to be in sad shape.
Out in the daylight, three of the four tires actually held air, miracle of miracles, at least long enough for two of us to roll it up a ramp and into the back of the pickup. Before unloading it at home I ran it through a carwash, dislodging some of the accumulated grime. Then, shoehorning it into my garage (I really needed more stuff in there) I took a good look at it. Pack rats had made a good-sized nest under the seat, but miraculously hadn’t damaged the wiring. Everything seemed to be there.
The next thing I did––and the smartest thing––was to call my friend Bill. Bill loves small engines, from mowers to motorcycles. He came over and we figured out a plan of action. It seemed clear the engine was going to need a new ignition switch. We couldn’t find the key for the old one and it seemed like it might be a good idea anyway to have some new wiring after forty years. And we bought a new battery. Then came moment-of-truth time. We checked and there was oil in the engine, after all these years. And there was no gas in the tank, which was a good thing, since deposits from old gas can plug up a fuel system pretty quickly.
So, a new battery, ignition switch, and fresh gas and we were ready. One hand on the ignition, and the other covering the open carburetor to choke it as needed, we cranked the old engine. It turned over a few times and then it roared to life. It was as if the intervening years had never happened. Well, that is, after the initial cloud of blue smoke dissipated. The old motor ran and ran well.
With that achievement, we turned to tires. I took one of the rear tires to a tire shop and had it sealed so it would hold air. The other one has been fine. But the two front ones were going to be a problem. They were so small—4.10 x 3.50—and the rims were so beat up, it was going to be hard to get them to seal. I just knew that every time someone wanted to use the mower, I could expect that one of those tires would be flat. So I traded them out for two new solid tires from Marathon Tire. They’ll make the ride a little bit harder, but they’ll never go flat. So now there are just two tires to worry about.
The blade came off easily and it polished up nicely. There’s nothing like a nice sharp blade. I put on new gas and air filters, but kept the old spark plug, which works fine. And I found the four grease points and gave them a shot of grease. So for a grand total of around $170 and a few hours this old mower that’s been in storage for two decades is back in service. And I had a little fun playing with it. I’ve mowed our suburban lot with it twice. It’s a little big for the job but it runs well and starts every time. What more can you ask from a mower? Now to get it back to the farm.